Untitled Country Review Issue 5: Featured Poet - Lyn Lifshin

by Scot Siegel (SS)

And new work by Lifshin published on Untitled Country Review site, issue 5

SS: With the exception of the book review “ALL THE POETS” and the poem we have reprinted from that collection, the poems of yours that we are featuring in this issue have their roots in the European-Jewish Diaspora of the Pogroms and Holocaust. How is it that the Holocaust, more than sixty years later, is still front and center in your writing?

LL: Both the Holocaust and the Russian pogroms are still important themes in my writing. My father came from Vilna or Vilnius and because he told me so very little of his life there, I had to make it up out of slivers of images and stories he told. One grandparent came from Covna and another from Odessa with their samovars and fears and hopes. This fall I read poetry in the house my mother and uncles grew up in, now given to a Havurah where the old Russian images are startling and beautiful. Because my mother grew up during Hitler’s time, during the Holocaust, I think the terror was always in the background, the sense that it could happen again. I was asked to do a workshop, as I had often been asked, to go with the New York State Museum’s exhibit: The Story of Daniel. For half a year I read everything I could on the Holocaust—lugging 50 books or more from the library and I watched every video and film I could. From all the reading and dreaming and imagining, my book BLUE TATTOO came.

SS: What current events in the world most significantly influence your writing today?

LL: I wrote KATRINA following the hurricane and I wrote many poems about Vietnam: they are among my earliest poems. Today I wrote about women in China. I feel compelled to write about atrocities in various conflicts. Like probably every poet, I am writing about Japan today.

SS: Untitled Country Review is interested in personal discoveries and how story-telling promotes human development and, possibly, contributes to a more humane world. How does writing help you better understand the world and put the past in perspective?

LL: I think it is extremely fascinating to write and read about lives different from my own, to get into others feelings and experiences in any way I can. I know BLUE TATTOO has touched people who might never have had a feeling or understanding of the Holocaust. A few nights ago I read a poem called “Why I wear My Hair Long” -- a poem that starts in the ordinary world and moves into the Holocaust and the next day got an e mail from a young student who knew nothing about WW2, said it was her favorite poem, that she was wild to know more.

SS: What is your next project?

LL: After having maybe 10 or 12 books and chapbooks out in the last few years, I am working on a kind of new and selected but also hoping to type up 50 or 60 new.

SS: Thank you.

New work published on Untitled Country Review site, issue 5